How Accurate Is 'Stronger'? The Boston Marathon Movie Feels All Too Real For Its Subject
Stronger isn't just a movie about the Boston Marathon Bombings of 2013, it's about one very specific survivor of the attacks, Jeff Bauman. So if you're wondering how accurate Stronger is, all you have to do is ask him. Bauman was waiting for his then girlfriend Erin Hurley at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. His injuries were extensive, and he ended up having both his legs amputated just above the knee. Years later, after months of physical therapy and prosthetics work, he wrote the book that would eventually be adapted into Stronger. As the author and living subject of the film, Bauman is the foremost authority on its accuracy, and according to the man himself, Stronger is more accurate than he'd ever imagined.
"When I saw Stronger the first time I was scared. It was a tough experience," Bauman wrote on Facebook in advance of the film's Toronto International Film Festival premiere. "You know why? It was so accurate. They got everything right." In fact, Bauman has admitted that there are moments in the film that he felt were almost too real. Specifically, the scenes that show Bauman's tough road to recovery, when he was skipping physical therapy in favor of drinking his pain away. "It portrayed me partying and drinking and not showing up for therapy once a week when I should have been there three times a week. That's real," he told The Los Angeles Times. "I was lost going through this."
As for the man who plays him on the big screen, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bauman seems pretty happy with the performance (aside from some public ribbing — he recently rated Gyllenhaal's performance as "OK" during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). Bauman even defended the actor against critics who said that the film should have cast a disabled actor to play the part. "I am so grateful to director David Gordon Green and especially to Jake for their fierce commitment to authenticity," Bauman said in a statement responding to the criticism, via The NY Daily News. He went on to credit Gyllenhaal for his commitment to playing him as true to life as possible, noting how much time the two spent together before filming. "He asked questions no one really ever asked me before like what hurt, what obstacles are the toughest — he was so invested and it showed."
For his part, Gyllenhaal was committed to doing Bauman justice. That meant endless conversations with Bauman, and eventually added up to hundreds of pages worth of notes, according to director Green. And during production, Bauman was always at the forefront of the actor's mind. "Every step of the way I thought, 'What's he going to feel like, what's he going to think, when he sees this movie for the first time?' It was in my head the whole time," he said in an interview with The Toronto Sun.
It wasn't just the stars in Stronger that helped make the film authentic, it was the supporting players and background actors, some of whom were actually there during the Boston Marathon Bombings. During production, Green made an effort to include real first responders, doctors, and nurses who helped Bauman recover in real life. He cast them as extras and a few even appear as themselves. "My head PT [physical therapist] Michelle Kerr, she's in the movie," Bauman told Today. The nurse, Odessa Boykins, that removes Gyllenhaal's breathing tube in the film is the same one who removed Bauman's in real life, and his surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Kalish has a voice-over cameo.
Stronger might not be an accurate representation of everyone whose lives were affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing, but when it comes to Bauman's story and the people that helped him, it looks like the movie succeeded in telling his truth.